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South Africa welcomes the world with a blast

By Ponga Liwewe in Johannesburg
Posted on Friday, 11 June 2010 00:00

And we’re off! Expectations are high both on and off the field as the World Cup arrives on African soil for the first time.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup gets underway today as South Africa seeks to prove itself capable of matching any previous host of football’s most prestigious event.

The opening match against Mexico will be the culmination of many years of hard work and millions of dollars spent in constructing and upgrading facilities. Harder still has been building a team that can hold its own against Mexico, France and Uruguay to reach the second round – a feat that no previous World Cup host has failed to achieve.

Africa’s other representatives Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Algeria will also be feeling the weight of carrying the hopes of one billion Africans, who expect nothing less than a semi-final place. So far the furthest an African team has reached in a World Cup is the quarter-finals, with Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 flying the flag high.

Three-time African footballer of the year Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew whose two sons, Dede and Rahim are in the Ghanaian squad, feels that this could be the World Cup that sees Africa come of age.

“I expect great exploits from all the African teams. With the great players we have this time Africa stands a very good chance of winning,” said Ayew.

In the last week the sound of the vuvuzela, the local football fans instrument of favour, has grown from a few blasts to a rising crescendo of noise blanketing cities across the country, much to the annoyance of some visiting supporters.

Football teams from across the world have bemoaned the inability to communicate on the field because of the extreme noise generated by vuvuzelas, which players and fans of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana consider the equivalent of the proverbial twelfth man.

The growing list of players falling out of the tournament with injury has been a talking point among African fans with three of Africa’s biggest stars Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Didier Drogba all sidelined by injury at the start of the tournament.

Among the favourites to lift the trophy are Brazil, who arrive as Confederations Cup champions having won last year’s tournament in South Africa, European champions Spain, and Argentina, whose talisman Lionel Messi hopes to emulate Diego Maradona to inspire the South American side to victory just as his coach did in Mexico at the 1986 World Cup.

Read more about the other teams to watch in our round up of the Best of the Rest.

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